Highpoint Interviews

Interview w/ Michael Quinlan, Moderate Disabilities Teacher at Highpoint

Black and white photo of Michael Quinlan speaking into a professional microphone.

Title: Moderate Disabilities Teacher
Name: Michael Quinlan
Former Positions: Science Lab Teacher,
Assistant Supervisor, Youth Development Professional (YDP)
Campus: Highpoint
Year Started: 2008

How many years have you been in your current position?

I actually just took this job three weeks ago. I was the science lab teacher for almost 6 years. And for the past year, I’ve been a moderate disabilities teacher, but I officially stepped over a couple weeks ago. 

What positions did you hold before this one? 

I was an assistant supervisor for a year or two, and I was a YDP full time for three or four years. And when I was in college, I was an on-call YDP for four years. 

So you’ve been with Hillcrest for a long time? 

Thirteen years. Since 2008. I graduated from high school on June 14th and I was at New Staff Orientation on June 26th, or something like that. 

How did you learn about Hillcrest?

My old man worked here. He was a social studies teacher. He’d been on campus since 1991. I came in when I was 18. I was probably the youngest guy on campus by 5 years.

What appealed to you about the job when you were going through the interview process? 

Honestly, what appealed to me was working over the summer and saving up money for college. And here we are 13 years later. 

What was the happiest or most rewarding moment for you while working for Hillcrest? 

When everything comes to a culmination, like on Recognition Day or when we have a Christmas party. When the kids really succeed. When you have a kid that’s biting at your ankles and testing your patience for years and years and years, and you don’t really think about it, but all of a sudden they’re acting way better. Back in my residential days, there was this kid Brandon who really tested my patience for the first year he was here. When he was ready to discharge, I realized, “You’re alright now; you did really well.” He called back within the past couple of years and he’s still doing really well, which is good to hear. 

We talked about the students’ proudest moments (here is Part I and Part II), and some of those guys were in my old class. When I walked into that class, there were some serious behaviors, and after being in there for a year, they’d all chilled out. I hope I had something to do with that. Who knows? 

Mr. Quinlan playing a carnival game a student created at the science and art fair at Brookside.
Mr. Quinlan playing a carnival game a student created at the science and art fair at Brookside.

What is the hardest part of your job? 

The hardest part is the paperwork, honestly. Dotting all the i’s, crossing the t’s.

Also, trying to earn the kids’ respect, I think is hard. I just switched classrooms, and now I’m with the 16 and 17 year olds. And letting those guys know that I respect them, but they have to respect me too. Getting them to realize I’m still gonna be here the next day is hard sometimes. But it takes time. And I just gotta hold the fort down until that happens. 

Who is the most influential person in your work life right now? 

It’s a little of everybody. I go home, talk to the wife. I have a rough day and I go play with my 20-month old twins. When I have a bad day, this is why I keep going back in. 

Then on the other side, I know at the end of a rough day, I can go to the supervisors’ office or my boss’ office, and we can come up with solutions, pat each other on the back, make each other feel good. There’s a lot of camaraderie. I think I can walk into any classroom or office and talk about what’s on my mind. That feels pretty good. 

What surprised you the most about the job? 

I think the variety of kids that we have surprises me. When I first started, we had kids that were 11 years old and 21 years old; different functioning levels. We have special ed kids. I had a student in another class who put together a crane and it works with batteries, with reverse and forward. I had to help a little bit. I think kids, if you let them surprise you, will surprise you, in a good way. 

Mr. Quinlan and one of his students wearing matching lab coats at the art & science fair at Highpoint.
Mr. Quinlan and one of his students wearing matching lab coats at the art & science fair at Highpoint.

Do you have any advice for new employees or people going through the application & interview process? 

If you have any issues, talk to someone about it. Don’t stand next to the water cooler and complain. Explain to your supervisor or other staff and ask for advice. If you think something’s wrong, something is probably wrong. A lot of new staff have a hard time calling the kids out on something that is obviously happening. 

What kind of person do you think succeeds as a teacher or YDP at Hillcrest?

People that mean business. When you work here, you have to realize that it’s not just a job. And the people who use this as a stepping stone don’t usually last as long as people who have experience with the population. A lot of the younger guys that come in and are just looking for a paycheck don’t usually last long. 

Do you have any favorite stories about the kids? 

Probably like a thousand. I did the science fair for Christmas this year, and we made a music video to a Christmas song. I brought in guitars, recorded it, and showed the kids how to edit it. We had a blast. I think my favorite thing is when I trick them into liking the same stuff I do. The kids in my old class go around talking about how much they love Metallica.

Funny things happened when I was a supervisor. We had fun with the kids. We had fun just hanging out and developing relationships with each other.

There was a guy back then who used to hide my cell phone all the time in the supe’s office. I used to go back and look at the camera footage to see where he put it. And then on his last day, they organized it so someone held up the paper in front of the camera so I couldn’t see it. And I had to spend 45 minutes going through every nook and cranny in the supe’s office trying to find my phone. Just stuff like that. 

I’ve been here long enough, I’ve been here on Christmas, on Easter, on Thanksgiving, all the holidays. Those aren’t necessarily the fondest memories, spending the holidays here, but the kids’ appreciate it. Even if they don’t tell you.


*******This interview has been lightly edited and condensed*******

We’re looking for dynamic, compassionate people to join our team! Check out our career openings. We’re waiting to hear from you. 

Don’t forget to read Hillcrest Students’ Proudest Moments: Part II. https://bit.ly/HillcrestStudentsProudestMomentsII

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